For The Answer
Saturday, March 13, 2004
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, SAWS, and Horticulturist
When the weather turns pleasant in the spring, many of us begin to think about our landscapes again. As our lives become busier and as we become more aware of environmental issues we have interest in a xeriscape landscape. A xeriscape landscape is not necessarily rock and cactus. In San Antonio a xeriscape landscape can include turfgrass, can have color 12 months of the year, and can have a manicured look. It could also be a Spanish courtyard, reproduce the hill country look, or be designed to maximize visits by hummingbirds and butterflies.
Xeriscape landscaping is a concept that takes advantage of the conditions of a locale to offer maximum individuality with minimum water use and reduced maintenance. A landscape covered with St. Augustine grass with a few photinias and a shade tree is not a xeriscape landscape. Such a landscape requires watering every week to keep it green and lots of mowing. Since St. Augustine is also an acid-loving grass that evolved in climates with 50 inches of rain, it may also require treatments of iron, insecticides, and fungicides to protect it from pests and deficiencies due to the stresses caused by being in an inappropriate environment.
Xeriscape landscapes are based on seven principles:
· Plan well to make your landscape a complement to your lifestyle. Obtain the “XERISCAPE: A How-to Guide to a Low-water-Use Landscape Using a Xeriscape Approach” from your favorite nursery or send a check for $7.40 (covers booklet and postage) to Gardening Volunteers of South Texas, 6798 Culebra, San Antonio, TX 78238-4700 for a copy.
· Add organic material to the soil to increase drainage and/or water-holding capacity.
· Mulch over the root system of shrubs, trees, and other plants. Mulch minimizes evaporation, keeps the soil cool, and reduces weeds.
· Reduce turf area to the amount needed for your kids or pets to play. Zoysia, buffalo, and Bermuda grass can go dormant if necessary in times of drought without dying. There should be at least 4 inches of soil under any lawngrass.
· Water efficiently. Only water when the plants need it and then water to fill the whole root zone. Use the personalized SIP watering recommendations (see SAWS website at www.saws.org) for directions on keeping the lawn green without wasting water. Use drip irrigation on gardens and for annual flowers.
· Maintain the landscape adequately. Restore mulch and, if you have an irrigation system, have it checked several times per year. A well-maintained yard adds value to the house and your neighborhood. The xeriscape landscape requires considerably less care than a high-water-use St. Augustine landscape but it still requires some care.
· Select well-adapted plants for the majority of the landscape. You can still have annual flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, and even azaleas but rely most heavily on perennials, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees. There is a huge selection of plants that fit into a xeriscape landscape in our area. A few are lantanas, ruellias (sun or shade), salvias, Texas gold columbines (shade), Asiatic jasmine (sun or shade), paperwhites, tropical giant spider lilies, old-fashioned roses, pomegranate, viburnum (shade or sun), Texas mountain laurel, hollies (sun or shade), nandinas (sun or shade), oaks, cedar elm, Texas redbud, loquat, wax myrtle, Mexican olive, desert willow, ceniza, and many others. The xeriscape conversion guide and SAWS website have extensive lists of low-water-use plants.
Speaking of xeriscape, join me at the Market Street Planting Party at the old Casino Park on Saturday, March 20, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. We will be planting new xeriscape plants and refreshing the mulch at the little park on Market Street between the Hilton and the Hertzberg Circus Museum on the Riverwalk. Milton Glueck from KLUP 930 AM Radio and Milbergers Nursery will provide gardening gloves and other goodies for every volunteer. The first 140 volunteers that show up for work will receive a Casino coin which entitles them to a horticultural boat tour of the Riverwalk. Walking tours will also be available. Tools will be provided. Park at the SAWS main office located at 1001 E. Market, which is a short walk (west) from the site. For more information call Karen Guz at 704-7479.